Though largely forgotten today, baggy eyed Fred Allen was once one of the nation’s most popular comedians with a long running radio show and a long running mock feud with fellow comedian Jack Benny. A master ad libber, Allen’s absurdist, topical humor often made him the target of radio censors. Listen to any of Fred Allen’s routines and it quickly becomes clear that he had one of the sharpest minds in show business. He had a tremendous understanding of satire, which is blatantly obvious throughout the one starring role in a film he had in his career, It’s in the Bag!.
Co-written by Alma Reville (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock), It’s in the Bag! takes its cue from a 1928 Russian novel called The Twelve Chairs. One of at least 18 film adaptations of the material across the world, American’s today might be most familiar with Mel Brooks’ version, released in 1970 and starring Frank Langella, Dom DeLuise and Ron Moody. The basic premise is this: a sizable amount of money has been stashed in one of twelve chairs from an antique dining set, but the chairs have all been distributed to different locations and owners. A diverse group of fortune hunters then races around in an effort to be the first to find where the fortune is stashed. Though It’s in the Bag! concerns only five chairs, the film is considered an adaptation of the novel.
This story takes things a step further, in that Fred Allen’s character Fred Floogle, becomes a suspect in his granduncle’s murder. It’s not long before it becomes apparent (to the audience, at least) that those responsible for the murder are actually the law firm and business partners of the deceased man, including Jefferson T. Pike (John Carradine), a harebrained attorney. At first, Fred and his wife Eve (Binnie Barnes) believe that Fred has come in to a massive fortune of $12 million and begin living accordingly. They happily start planning a wedding for their daughter (Gloria Pope) who is apparently engaged to the son of an aristocrat (Robert Benchley), but as it turns out, is really an expert in pest control.
When they learn that the money is gone and Fred has actually been left five chairs, they hastily sell them. Unknown to Fred, his uncle had stashed $300,000 inside one of them. The rest of the film finds Fred and his wife trying to track down all the chairs, while being followed by a cop and various nefarious people. They also take a side trip to Jack Benny’s house and Don Ameche, Robert Benchley, and Rudy Vallee posing as singing waiters in a nightclub.
It’s in the Bag! plays like a series of connected sketches, as “guest stars” come and go and not every scene necessarily has much to do with the endgame. Even so, the film gives Fred Allen an opportunity to show his abilities when it came to absurdist humor. Though there are some decidedly politically incorrect moments—Fred and his son adopt Chinese dialects while squinting their eyes—films like this give fans of comedians a chance to see the lesser known stars of yesteryear that influenced entertainers a generation later.
Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Olive Films 1080p transfer indicates that the film elements weren’t in the best of shape. Scratches and specks dot the print throughout. Most notably, the contrast fluctuates greatly. Some scenes look very good, with a nicely balanced grayscale. Others, look extremely washed out. More scenes look good than bad, but it’s impossible to call this anything but an uneven transfer.
It’s in the Bag! has a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that delivers about what you would expect from a film that’s over 65 years old. The sound is a bit high-pitched on the upper end, but there’s no real evidence of damage. While the soundfield is obviously narrow, fidelity is surprisingly good and dialogue understandable.
No subtitles are available.
No special features are included.